"Thank goodness the Republicans are rediscovering their backbone under Obama," says John Andrews in the February round of Head On TV debates. Susan Barnes-Gelt scoffs that "tt's a new day and the Grumpy Old Partisans are tone deaf." John on the right, Susan on the left, also go at it this month over Obama's honeymoon, Salazar's agenda at Interior, how to fill Senate vacancies, and the future of print journalism. Head On has been a daily feature on Colorado Public Television since 1997. Here are all five scripts for February: 1. GOP SHOWS SOME FIGHT
Susan: The Republican Party is not destined to oblivion. History tells us that no political party dominates forever. On the other hand, and sadly for the country - the R's in the minority role are disciplined - consistently putting petty partisanship above the needs of the country.
John: After a big victory like the Democrats had, sweeping the White House and the Congress, Republicans have to fight back for the sake of our liberties, our pocketbooks, and our children’s national debt. If someone doesn’t stand as the loyal opposition, Pelosi and Reid and Obama could go too far.
Susan: R's have been in charge for 6 of the last 8 years. Bush inherited peace and a budget surplus. The best thing about the first weeks of Obama's watch is the emergence of Congressional moderates - D's and R's. It's a new day and the Grumpy Old Partisans are tone deaf.
John: Partisan checks and balances are essential. Fiscal responsibility was much better with divided government under Reagan or Clinton, than with one-party rule under Jimmy Carter or George W. Bush. The budget was more steady. The economy was more healthy. Thank goodness the Republicans are rediscovering their backbone under Obama.
2. OBAMA’S EARLY WEEKS
Susan: Following an historic election and inaugural week, President Obama has been plunged into the miasma of Beltway disfunction. Despite the entreaties of Republican governors, the R's in the House and Senate are playing politics with America's economy. Obama is smart and tough. He'll prevail.
John: Our new young president is gifted as a politician but totally untested as an executive. The first hundred days are testing him in a big way. With ethics problems, a pork-laden stimulus bill, and shaky poll numbers, he hasn’t exactly aced the exam. It could be a very short honeymoon.
Susan: The economy is in free-fall, Iraq, Pakistan. Afghanistan and the mid-East are in peril and his appointees await computers and phones! The partisan bickering in Congress is a distraction they are fiddling while Rome burns. The President must do what's right for the country - and ignore the Beltway baloney.
John: Mr. Obama is the biggest question mark ever chosen to lead this country – ever. The answers emerging so far are not reassuring. Will he stand tough against our enemies in Russia and China, Iran and Venezuela? Why is he cutting our defenses? How far left will he take us?
3. PRIORITIES FOR SALAZAR AT INTERIOR
John: Who is the real Ken Salazar, under that phony cowboy hat? As a senator, he was pleasant but slippery. Now as Interior Secretary, he has to really deliver for the West. Blocking energy development is not the way. We need mixed use of public lands for everyone’s benefit, Mr. Secretary.
Susan: Smart, moderate and politically savvy Coloradan - Ken Salazar has the integrity, the will and the know-how to clean up the severely degraded Department of Interior. Aided by his chief of staff Tom Strickland, he will balance the environment, energy demands, water policy and restore public, to public lands.
John: Environmentalists say Salazar isn’t green enough. Let’s hope he doesn’t pander to them. The Utah oil and gas shutdown is a bad sign. The New York Times says he isn’t tough enough. Let’s hope they’re wrong. As Senate President, I found Salazar tough as nails. And Tom Strickland will be good.
Susan; Salazar won his senate seat in moderate, center-right Colorado because he reflects the values that will serve him well as Secretary of Interior. He is intelligent, thoughtful and moderate and will balance stewardship of the nation's assets with the demands of a 21st Century economy.
4. WHAT IF THE ROCKY FOLDS?
John: Although we both write for the Denver Post, Susan, there's no doubt the Rocky Mountain News has made Colorado a better place for the past 150 years. But this recession has put the brave old Rocky on borrowed time. Competing newspapers enrich a city. Denver without the Rocky is not a happy thought.
Susan: What's happening at the Rocky is symptomatic of a larger problem: the demise of the local daily newspaper. Without a vigorous local press, democracy is at risk. The internet, YouTube and bloggers can't possibly replace a trained, full time professional press corps.
John: Think about that word “media.” Who do you want mediating for you? To stay informed as consumers, we have to pay others for news-gathering. But to stay free as citizens, we must think for ourselves. It’s okay if electronic news gradually replaces print, provided First Amendment competition keeps the media honest.
Susan: The issue is not electronic v paper. The issue is who is reporting the news. A trained professional, or a biased opionator (like you or me), an invisible blogger or script reader. Yes it will be possible to get in-depth info - but much tougher especially at the local level.
5. LET VOTERS FILL SENATE VACANCIES
John: Governors in four states, deciding alone like absolute monarchs, recently appointed powerful new members of the United States Senate. In Illinois, New York, and Delaware, the process was a clown show. Here in Colorado, Bill Ritter's pick of Michael Bennet was clean but strange. Let's have special elections to fill Senate vacancies.
Susan: We agree on this one John. An open US Senate seat is too rare and too important. No single individual should be the sole decider. And - the re-elect rate of appointed senators is less than 50%, the public ought to decide from the get-go.
John: Under the 17th Amendment, special elections for Senate vacancies are the preferred option. State Sen. Mike Kopp wants to mandate them in Colorado. US Sen. Russ Feingold wants a similar change to the federal constitution. If Coloradans had voted right after Salazar left, dark horse Michael Bennet would not have won.
Susan: We don’t know who might have won in an open election. That's the point - candidates articulate a message, work to build coalitions work hard to earn support and then the voters decide. Not the newspapers, not the elites, not the governor. That's democracy.